New entrants Bengaluru FC and seasoned campaigners Mohun Bagan waged a see-saw battle before settling for a 1-1 draw as I-League action resumed at the Bangalore Football Stadium on a resounding note.
In a game that sprang to life only in the second half, both teams missed a hatful of chances and a penalty each to deservedly split points after Bagan’s CS Sabeeth cancelled out Sean Rooney’s opener with a fine header in injury time.
Over the last six weeks, Bengaluru FC have been doing plenty of promotional activities to revive the game in the City as well as bring the fans to the stadium -- especially the youth. They succeeded on that front as around 6,000 people, including women and kids, turned up to witness their debut.
But it nearly turned into an anti-climax within eight minutes of starting when BFC conceded a penalty after referee Rahul D’Sa judged Keegan Perreira to have brought down Bagan’s Katsumi Yusa. However, the boos turned into cheers quickly when Pawan Kumar pulled off a brilliant save to his right off Katsumi.
Both the teams, one starting a journey in top flight and the other rebuilding after the exodus of key players, took time to settle down. Barring an odd effort, BFC and Bagan struggled to keep the ball for long, often losing possession rather tamely.
BFC coach Ashley Westwood’s decision to start with star India striker Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh on the bench appeared to backfire as the hosts lacked bite upfront and with midfielders John Menyongar and Malenganba Metei too off colour, they just could not muster anything worthwhile to keep the crowd going.
Things, however, changed five minutes after the interval. Right-back Vishal Kumar whipped in a brilliant ball into the box from the right and English import Rooney tapped home to kick start the party.
It could have been 2-0 within two minutes when Bengaluru earned a penalty after Aiborlang Khongjee brought down Perreira. But, to their dismay, Rooney’s effort from the spot was gloved out wonderfully by Sandip Nandy.
The miss notwithstanding, Bengaluru began to take control of the game as Westwood introduced Chhetri in the 55th minute. Switching flanks often, he gave a tough time for the Bagan defenders as he created some really good chances only to see them go abegging.
Katsumi too went close to finding the equaliser for Bagan but luck deserted him as Bengaluru continued to stay in front. Robin came in the 82nd minute and immediately set up Chhetri with a brilliant ball from the right but the striker’s shot just went wide.
Three minutes later Bengaluru’s Siam Hangal made a hash of a sitter, shooting wide with only the goalkeeper to beat. The missed chances then cost them two points as Bagan produced their famed late counter-attack to equalise against the run of play.
Denson Devadas curled in a good corner and Sabeeth rose high amidst a crowd of defenders to head the ball home in the first minute of injury time, dampening the Bengaluru celebrations somewhat. Still, it was a decent start for the debutants, who play their next match on September 29 against Rangdajied United, also at home.